The story takes place at the steel plant in the late XIX – early XX centuries.
A rainy August morning. The factory whistle is caught by the engineer Andrei Ilyich Bobrov, a short, thin man with a pale appearance and a pleasant smile, at the tea. Recently, Andrei Ilyich suffers from insomnia due to a long habit of morphine, with which Bobrov is stubbornly struggling. At seven o’clock Bobrov goes to the factory. He can not look at life from a practical point of view, like his fellow engineers. Andrei Ilyich is disgusted with his service at the plant and engineering, which his mother forced him to learn.
Soon Bobrov opens a panorama of a huge steel plant.
Thousands of people… gathered here from all corners of the earth to… give their strength, health, intelligence and energy for one step forward of industrial progress.
Looking at the hard work of the workers, Bobrov seems to be experiencing their physical suffering himself, and he becomes
ashamed of his well-being.
At the plant, Andrei Ilyich comes up with a colleague Stanislav Ksaverevich Svezhevsky, who always fawns on a gossip who does not like Bobrov very much. Svezhevsky reports that one of the board members, millionaire Vasily Terentyevich Kvashnin, will come to the plant to start a new blast furnace. Kvashnin, a huge and fat man, is known as a lover of beautiful women.
Having finished his working day, Bobrov goes on a visit to the Zinenok family, consisting of a father, mother and five daughters. The father manages the warehouse at the plant and is under the thumb of his wife Anna Afanasyevna. The most charming of the sisters Zinenok is Nina, the favorite of the family, quite unlike the massive sisters with rude, vulgar faces. The girl has an elegant, aristocratic appearance, and her parents place high hopes on her. Because of Nina, Andrei Ilyich often goes to Zinenok, although the engineer offends their philistine tastes and stereotyped conversations.
This evening Bobrov manages to stay with Nina alone. He is increasingly inclined to think about marriage and is sure that Nina
shares his feelings. In the living room they talk about Kvashnin. Anna Afanasyevna is going to lead her girls to the station, where a solemn meeting will be held. The heart of Bobrova becomes colder and shrinks. He goes unnoticed.
At home, Bobrov finds his good friend, Dr. Goldberg. He genuinely loves this meek Jew for his versatile mind and passion for abstract disputes. Such a dispute begins now. Bobrov considers his work useless, aimless.
Two days of work devour the whole man. … The brass gentlemen, Moloch and Dagon, would have blushed with shame and resentment against the figures that I have just given…
Goldberg argues that with his work the engineer moves progress forward. Bobrov compares the plant with the ancient god Moloch, who requires human blood. Covered with pity and fear, the doctor puts Bobrov into a bed excited with a dispute, and for a long time sits beside him, comforting and comforting.
The next day, the entire board of the plant, headed by director Sergey Valeryanovich Shelkovnikov, meets Kvashnin. Few people know that Shelkovnikov is a director only on paper. In fact, the affairs are managed by the Belgian engineer Andrea, a semi-Polish semi-Swede by nationality. Present at the meeting and the family Zynenok. Andrei Ilyich is ashamed of their tactless arrival, but he is glad to see Nina.
In his sick, tormented soul, an unbearable desire for tender, fragrant girlish love was suddenly lit, a thirst for the familiar and soothing female affection.
For a few minutes Bobrov remains alone with Nina, but she can not admit to her feelings again. He is confused by the duality in Nina’s character when, from a tender, refined girl, she suddenly turns into a provincial young lady with a template set of phrases. Nina realizes that she is a product of the environment in which she grew up, but she can not struggle with her ordinary life and feels it only during her communication with Bobrov, whom he admires. It seems to the girl that she is sincere, but this is only a need to tell Bobrov pleasant.
Meanwhile, because of the turn of the railway, a courier train appears. Kvashnin, one of the shareholders of the railway, travels in his own car. From the window of the car Kvashnin notices Nina and is interested in her.
Kvashnin… stood behind a glass wall… with widely spaced legs and a fastidious mine on his face, like a Japanese idol of rough work.
The meetingmen look at Kvashnin with servility, almost with fright. This same expression Bobrov notes bitterly and on Nina’s face.
Four days later, a new blast furnace and a prayer service are laid, on which almost three thousand workers are present. Tomorrow, one of them will be devoured by the insatiable Moloch. A cold wave of nervous excitement runs through Andrei Ilyich’s back.
After the moleben, the shareholders are shown all the workshops. Then all gather in the heart of the plant – the separation of steam boilers. Shelkovnikov leads the guests to a gala dinner, and Bobrov remains near the boilers and looks at the hard work of the stokers. It seems to him that they are feeding an insatiable, gluttonous monster. Approached by Dr. Goldberg, Bobrov tells how easy it is to destroy this Moloch – it’s enough to put cold water in a hot boiler. Andrei Ilyich jokes, but his voice is serious, and his look is severe and sad.
Kvashnin is approaching the Zinenok family. In relation to the girls he behaves like a kind uncle showering them with expensive gifts. A regular guest in the house Zinenok becomes careerist Svezhevsky, whom Kvashnin silently tolerates. Gossip that Kvashnin cares for Nina, reach Bobrov, but he cares only the reputation of the girl. Jealousy is alien to the trusting nature of Andrei Ilyich.
Bobrov irresistibly draws to Nina, but constrains the presence of Kvashnin. Despite this, Andrei Ilyich takes from Nina an invitation to a posh picnic, Which Kvashnin arranges for the girl.
To the place of a picnic of numerous guests is a train, richly decorated with flowers. In the morning at the station, wives, sisters and mothers of workers gather to see the “red and fat boss.” They ask Kvashnina to insulate their barracks and put the ovens for cooking. Kvashnin confidently promises to fulfill their request, and then orders Shelkovnikov to fold two carts of bricks at the barracks – let them admire.
You need to be able to talk to these people. You can promise them anything – aluminum dwellings, an eight-hour working day and steaks for breakfast – but do it very confidently.
Andrei Ilyich is confused by the behavior of Nina – the girl does not even look at him, although she was very affectionate with the engineer the day before. Bobrov begins to understand that Anna Afanasyevna does not approve of their relationship, but decides to go on a picnic and get Nina’s answer.
The picnic turned out to be a real ball. Kvashnin ordered to build a pavilion in the forest glade, to cover the tables in it and to hire an orchestra. Bobrov does not like to dance, but still decides to invite Nina to a quadrille in order to explain it to her during the dance. It turns out that all of Nina’s dances are painted. Bobrov is overcome by a dull and indifferent longing, but he still does not lose hope.
It’s getting dark. The pavilion and the playground are illuminated by colorful lights and the dances continue. Bobrov manages to stay with Nina alone. At first the girl tries to avoid conversation, but then admits that this is the will of her mother. Anna Afanasyevna immediately appears and leads her daughter by the hand. On the orders of his mother, Nina invites Kvashnin to dance, then dinner begins.
Bobrov continued to stand in the same place where Nina left him. Feelings of humiliation, resentment and hopeless, desperate anguish alternately tormented him.
Dr. Goldberg carries Andrei Ilyich to the table. Bobrova’s neighbor turns out to be Andrea. He is drunk. Only six months later it became known that this industrious, talented and erudite person every evening gets drunk alone before losing consciousness. Bobrov also decides to drink brandy, but he became even sadder.
Kvashnin pronounces a rant, and then announces the engagement of Nina and Svezhevsky. Seeing the distorted face of Bobrov, Andrea utters an ironic toast, in which he congratulated Svezhevsky on his appointment to St. Petersburg as manager of the affairs of the board of the society. This appointment is a wedding gift from Kvashnin.
The picnic is interrupted by the ten’s manager with the news of the riots at the plant. The panic and crush begin. Bobrov notices a glow above the factory pipes, and in it rises a wave of triumphant gloating. Toast Andrea explains Andrei Ilyich and Nina’s cold restraint, and the indignation of her mother, and Svezhevsky’s closeness to Kvashnin.
Bobrov goes to the plant. There the forest warehouse burns, and at the dam of the quadrangular factory pond a black crowd of workers is boiling. In Bobrova gets thrown by someone a stone, from a wound on the temple blood flows. Lost in the crowd, he loses consciousness. Waking up from a swoon, Bobrov discovers that he is near the plant, and goes to the blast furnaces.
Bobrov wanders around the empty factory and speaks to himself. He feels that he needs to do something big and important, but what exactly can not remember. Andrei Ilyich descends into the stoker pit and begins to throw coal into both furnace openings.
He looked at the huge body of the cauldron, which was beginning to buzz and illuminate with fiery gleams, and it seemed to him more and more alive and hateful.
At last everything is ready, it remains only to turn the small valve, but the unusual work tires Bobrov, and this last movement he does not.
In the morning Andrei Ilyich comes to the factory hospital. He looks awful. He begs Goldberg to stab him with morphine. It is impossible to dissuade him from this fateful step. Goldberg makes an injection. Bobrov is forgotten with a sweet smile on his face, and the doctor gently washing his head.